The definition of aquaponics is in its name – it is a combination of AQUAculture (the growing of fish) and hydroPONICS (the growing of vegetables and herbs). Aquaponics is a perfect example of sustainable food production, and many people are turning to this system of home food growing. Using aquaponics to grow your food will save you lots of money and give you food that is organic and of higher quality than what you’d buy in shops.
In an aquaponics system, the water from the fish reaches the hydroponic beds. The plants will take up some of the water, and with it the nitrogen in the water. This nitrogen will have originated from fish manure and decomposing feed. If the nitrogen is allowed to build up in the fish tank, it will reach toxic levels. However, this nitrogen happens to be a perfect fertilizer for the vegetables! This saves you from having to add artificial fertilizer, which is expensive and contains synthetic chemicals that are potential harmful. After the plants have taken up the nitrogen, the water returns to the fish pond squeaky clean. Hence, you won’t need complicated filtering systems for the fish water, as the plants will do this work for you!
The benefits of aquaponics are many. It is a sustainable system of food production, where nutrients are recycled and external inputs are minimal. It is the most efficient method of food production as it can produce large amounts of food in the least amount of space and with the least amount of expenses. It is a very flexible system, allowing you to grow a large variety of fish and plants. And it can be set-up practically anywhere! In addition, it is very easy to scale according to needs, as the equipment required can easily be built at home. In other words, make it as big as you want. Maybe you just want a small unit to produce food just for your family. Or maybe you want to dedicate a whole room to it so that you’ll have lots of vegetables and fish to sell for a profit! Remember that all the foods grown in an aquaponics system are organic, as no additives are used. And, as you know, organic foods are of better quality and fetch higher prices than non-organic food. In fact, many are turning this hobby into a source of income.
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics is technique that blends growing vegetables with fish. This closed-loop system is highly efficient, yields more food than traditional farming and has virtually no waste. The reason why aquaponics is super sustainable and highly efficient is because of the healthy symbiotic relationships that the plants, fish and nitrogen-fixing bacteria have with one another. As fish excrete into the water, the water is then pumped up to the plant beds. Here the bacteria help break down the fish excrement so the plants can absorb it. The water is naturally cleaned and returned to the fish tank. As a result, plants typically grow in half the time and a jam packed with nutrients that out perform most organic farms.
How is it different from hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in a soil-less medium (such as gravel, pelletized clay, rock, etc.) where nutrients are added to the water for the plants to absorb. These systems are not as sustainable as aquaponics because they require the addition of fossil fertilizers or other supplemental nutrients so the plants can grow. Over time, the water quality will decline and will require it to be discharged. If the water is not properly disposed of, potential contamination of streams and other water sources can occur.
Aquaponics incorporates fish to provide the natural fertilizers and nutrients plants need. This simple addition, eliminates the need to add “food” for plants. Best of all, aquaponics has a built in self cleaning and filtration system that returns clean water to the fish. The only water you will be adding is to replace what the plants take up and from evaporation. There is never a need to discharge your water (with the exception of a major problem if your PH or ammonia levels are too toxic).
What can you grow in aquaponics?
Ingenuity Innovation Center is discovering that you can grow almost anything using an aquaponic system. The more appropriate question is what can’t you grow in an aquaponic system? From fresh leafy greens such as lettuces, kales and chards, to countless varieties of tomatoes, the possibilities are endless. We have learned that vine-like produce such as zucchini, squashes and cucumbers love to climb out of the beds and use the tables and legs to expand out and grow on. Peppers, jalapenos, peas, green onion and asparagus thrive. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregon, cilantro, sage, chives, basil do incredible. Fruits such as lemons, blueberry, raspberry and strawberries do well. Even root vegetables can be grown in systems with some basic modifications to encourage the root to grow downwards.
Why is aquaponics the best way to grow food?
There are many benefits to growing food using an aquaponics system. In addition to having continuous access to healthy, fresh, organic, GMO-free produce, you also have the added benefit of protein from fish. Food grows in half the time of traditional farming and you can grow year round.
In May, 2013, we had a researcher test the BRIX level of the produce grown at Ingenuity Innovation Center. This scale is commonly used in the food industry and measures the quality of food by assessing the carbohydrate and mineral value by using a refractometer. High BRIX foods have greater carbohydrate and mineral levels. This researcher discovered that traditionally grown organic farms produce he had tested scored out at a 4. Our produce scored over a 6! This means that produce grown in aquaponic systems is more nutritious and healthy than produce grown on organic farms.
Once you understand the concepts of aquaponics, you’ll realize that the set-up required is actually very basic, and it can be easily constructed using materials from around your house or purchased cheaply at any local hardware store. All you need are some core instructions and a few diagrams to get you started.
Learn more about aquaponics, and how to build your own system in Aquaponics 4 You